The Low Down: Traditional Chinese Medicine

I grew up in Australia surrounded by mostly Western medicine, and for most of my youth, didn't know that there was much else the world had to offer in this space. But as I saw one of my best friends continue to struggle with poor health throughout high school, and Western medicine was doing minimal to help her overcome these conditions and often caused more side effects than positive outcomes, she helped open my mind to the world of complementary medicine and how it helped her.

Combined with the principles learned from my great-grandmother, who practiced Rongoa, or traditional Maori healing and my interest continued to grow. So, I dove into other complementary medicine options that could offer much more than just the treatment of disease, but rather, a lifestyle stemmed in connecting mind, body and spirit for true health.

Here I share what I have learned about Traditional Chinese Medicine thus far.

About Traditional Chinese Medicine

With over 2,500 years of history, Traditional Chinese Medicine encompasses an array of practices - most notably traditional herbal medicine, acupuncture, moxibustion, massage, tai chi and diet therapy.

Traditional Chinese Medicine is rooted in the ancient philosophy of Taoism, with systems also existing in other East and South Asian countries, including Japan (where the traditional herbal medicine is called Kampo) and Korea. Some of these systems have been influenced by Traditional Chinese Medicine and are similar to it in some ways, but each has developed distinctive features of its own.

The underlying principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine are very different from traditional Western notions about health and illness that most of us are familiar with. Chinese herbs are prescribed to normalise imbalanced energy, or Qi (pronounced ‘chee’), that runs through invisible meridians in the body.

Ying and Yang

The ancient Chinese proposed that every living thing is sustained by a balance of two opposing forces of energy, called Yin and Yang. This thought has been traced back to the Shang dynasty (1600-1100 BC). Together, they make up the life essence, the Qi. Half of certain organs and meridians are governed by Yin and the other half by Yang. When Yin and Yang are out of balance in the body, this causes a blockage of Qi and a subsequent illness may arise. Yin and Yang imbalances can be caused by stress, pollution, poor diet, emotional upsets or infection. Yin and Yang are further subdivided into interior and exterior, hot and cold, deficiency and excess. Think about this concept as being a hill, the part that is sun-facing is the Yang and the part that is in the shade, is the Yin. 

The Four Traditional Chinese Medicine Principles

The most concise summary I found of the principles of the practice was published by The Traditional Chinese Medicine World Association, stating that:

1. Your body is an integrated whole. Each and every structure in your body is an integral and necessary part of the whole. Along with your mind, emotions, and spirit, your physical body structures form a miraculously complex, interrelated system that is powered by life force, or energy. 

2. You are completely connected to nature. Changes in nature are always reflected in your body. Traditional Chinese Medicine factors in the particular season, geographical location, time of day, as well as your age, genetics, and the condition of your body when looking at your health issues.

3. You were born with a natural self-healing ability. Your body is a microcosm that reflects the macrocosm. Think about it: nature has a regenerative capacity, and so do you. Sometimes, this ability may appear to be lost or difficult to access. In most cases, it is never completely gone.

4. Prevention is the best cure. Do you know your body is continually revealing signs about the state of your health? Let’s face it, it’s common to ignore these signs or symptoms until something more complicated arises. TCM teaches you how to interpret what your body is telling you. 

The Bottom Line

For some people, including myself, Traditional Chinese medicine can provide a unique perspective into lifestyle factors that can influence a person’s health as a whole. There are more and more studies being done to prove the positive effects of Traditional Chinese Medicine but it is important to seek a qualified practitioner and consult your doctor to see if it is right for you.

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